Friday, December 3

Case of comedian Mike Ward: a debate that began almost a decade ago

The Supreme Court will rule on Friday in the case that the right to freedom of expression of comedian Mike Ward is confronted with the right to dignity of Jérémy Gabriel.

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The Supreme Court of Canada will issue its decision Friday on a case involving a Quebec comedian that is no laughing matter.

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It is about a debate in Quebec that began almost a decade ago when the parents of a young teenager named Jérémy Gabriel, who was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, decided that they could no longer tolerate the jokes of Mike Ward making fun of the physical appearance of your son. The rare genetic disorder causes certain malformations of the head, ears, and palate.

In 2012, Gabriel’s parents decided to take the matter before the Quebec Human Rights Commission. From the beginning, the issue pitted Ward’s right to freedom of expression against Gabriel’s right to dignity, as defined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Article 10 of the letter establishes: “Everyone has the right to full and equal recognition and exercise of their human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on… a disability or the use of any means to alleviate a disability. Discrimination exists when such distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing that right “.

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The Human Rights Court ruled that Ward went too far in the jokes he made during a comedy tour and in the videos the comedian created and posted on his website. During a sketch that Ward referred to as The Untouchables, he made jokes about Quebec celebrities such as Céline Dion, Ariane Moffat and Gabriel, as he became known as a singer who overcame disabilities brought on by the disorder, including how he was almost completely deaf. at birth.

Jeremy Gabriel appears at a press conference in Montreal on Thursday, July 21, 2016 (Dario Ayala / Montreal Gazette).
Jeremy Gabriel appears at a press conference in Montreal on Thursday, July 21, 2016 (Dario Ayala / Montreal Gazette). Photo by Dario Ayala /Montreal Gazette

Ward referred to Gabriel as “the boy with the subwoofer on his head” and as “ugly.” He also made jokes based on an incorrect assumption that Gabriel was dying. That included a joke in which Ward said he met the teen at a pool supply store, tried to drown him, and joked that the boy couldn’t be killed.

The “subwoofer” comment was a reference to how, in 2003, when Gabriel was six years old, he underwent surgery to have an anchored hearing aid implanted. With the implant, her hearing improved significantly, allowing her to learn to speak and sing.

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Ward appealed, but the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed with the court on the key question of whether Ward went too far. Ward is appealing the appellate court’s decision and the Supreme Court of Canada will make the final decision on the matter on Friday.

The following is a chronology of the case:

2005: Jérémy Gabriel appears on Donnez au suivant, a television show, to highlight how he was able to sing despite having undergone 33 operations, several blood transfusions and attending a school for the hearing impaired. He later sang the national anthem before a Montreal Canadiens game. The following year, when he was nine years old, he meets Céline Dion and sings for the Pope.

2010: Friends of Gabriel’s parents send them a link to a website where they can watch Ward’s standing routine and watch videos he made about their son. Gabriel had just started high school. He would later tell the Human Rights Court that he saw all of Ward’s videos that referenced him. He said he was upset and hurt because the jokes pointed to his disability and alluded to his mother having exploited his situation financially. He said he was teased at school, he became depressed and his performance in school suffered.

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2012: Ward is interviewed on the television show Les Francs-Tireurs and asked about the jokes. Ward compared himself to a cocaine addict and said he needed to make jokes that go too far. Gabriel’s parents saw the interview and that’s when they decided to file a complaint with the commission. The boy’s mother, Sylvie Gabriel, would later say that the interview was “the last straw.”

March 3, 2013: Ward performs the last show that was part of a Gabriel joke tour. It would be the last time he would make jokes about the teenager. More than 135,000 people attended his shows.

July 20, 2016: The Human Rights Court issues its decision stating: “Given the context, the court concludes that Ward’s jokes exceeded the limits of what a reasonable person must tolerate in the name of freedom of expression. The discrimination suffered by Jérémy was unjustified. “The effect of Ward’s comments is to differentiate Jérémy from other people who do not have a disability. His comments are discriminatory and violate respect for the dignity and honor of Jérémy ”. Ward is ordered to pay $ 25,000 in moral damages to Jérémy and $ 5,000 to his mother. The comedian must also pay $ 10,000 in punitive damages to Jérémy and $ 2,000 to Sylvie Gabriel.

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November 28, 2019: After hearing Ward’s appeal in the case, the Quebec Court of Appeal issues a decision that reads: “We do not intend to restrict creativity or censor the opinion of artists. Comedians must realize, however, that artistic freedom is not absolute and that they, like any citizen, are responsible for the consequences of their words when they cross certain limits ”. The court also found that Gabriel’s mother was not discriminated against and ruled that Ward should not have to compensate her.

February 15, 2021: The Supreme Court of Canada hears Ward’s appeal. Ward’s attorney, Julius Gray, argued that the comedian did not single out Gabriel because of his disability, but because he was famous and part of a group of celebrities like Dion and Moffatt. “He made fun of how (Jérémy) looks like he did the other holy cows. It wasn’t because of his disability that he was part of the show, ”Gray told the Supreme Court. “If the decision (of the Quebec Court of Appeal) is upheld, the stand-up comedy will turn into good humor. You will always have to be very careful that there is nothing scathing. But the gist is that it has to be scathing. “

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Reference-montrealgazette.com

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